Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 13 2012

To the 2010 Mississippi Delta corps:

I am in awe of you.

Sitting in Jobe Auditorium on Saturday, Sally and I stared at each other. Sally, who I met on day one of institute, who talked to me about God and the ex-boyfriend and teaching, who went on runs with me in the 90 degree heat. Who just got married and is soon moving to Indonesia to be an administrator at a school currently in construction.

“There’s this feeling I get,” I told her, “when I’m with everyone. It’s depressing. Everyone is incredible, smart, talented, charismatic. But it feels exclusive… there are so many people I don’t know still.”

“Yeah,” she said looking around, eyes wide as the 200 or however many 2010s filled the seats, catching up, talking about the night’s party, giving hugs and laughing. “I wish I could have known everyone better. I didn’t make as many relationships as I thought I would.”

“Exactly! There are so many people I wish I knew better, that I just want to be friends with. Like, ‘Sorry I’m not fun enough, cool enough! I hope you had fun!’” I felt kinda hopeless.

The feeling lifted with our alumni director’s presentation, about how we’re all in the middle of our “what“, our corps commitment, our “fight against educational inequality”, our struggles with kids, administration, ourselves. But what about our “why“? She brought it up, asked to be real, asked us what our why is, beyond the stock answers we all give.

I didn’t have a good answer, just filled in with the usual, “I didn’t have plans after school, I like to be challenged, I want to give kids a shot at what I have always took for granted.”

There was something in those conversations, though, that was weighty and terrifying. I’ll still be here, I’m still in this universe (in fact this universe is becoming more and more solidly my reality, evening out with my Michigan and east coast lives, becoming less dramatic and more of a given). So many people are leaving, back to “normal” lives, away from these students, these communities. Next year I’ll be the only returning TFA teacher in Dumas (though I’m grateful we’ll be getting, supposedly, five more in the district!)

It was, and always has been at Professional Saturday and other TFA events, unsettling to be in such awe. There is a deep and permanent part of me that feels like I do not at all deserve what I’ve been given. I could go on about this for 800 entries, how unfit I feel in that room. How humbled and appreciative and inspired, and how it feels like a mistake that I should be there with them.

It’s that feeling, though, that drives productivity and change. My own want to measure up, to be as good as the stories I hear of teachers with 81% of their students proficient, of class trips out of the country, of life changing moments. And not knowing everyone, or not knowing most people, drives it even more. With anonymity comes a drive to impress, a drive to be talked about, a drive to be someone worth meeting.

While at our last ProSat I felt an alarming sense of loss– that my own peer group is leaving and likely won’t come back. That those very attractive and very accomplished people are moving out of my range of connection. I want them all for best friends; I want them all for road trips and stories of our kids.

Back to the “what is your why” question. One of the corps members I was talking with, someone I met at institute, heard constant success stories about but rarely talked personally to, someone I never was as close as I’d like to be with (much like everyone else), slipped out a, “Yeah, I follow your blog pretty religiously.”

What?? What! These comments always take me by surprise, always make me feel my face get hot, always take a few minutes to believe. I wish I could know each person that reads these insane and disjointed things I write. I wish I could have hours of conversation with anyone who knows anything about my kids…

My point is not that I’m happy someone reads my blog, but that I so enamored with, so proud to be a part of, so in love with the 2010 Delta corps. There are so many faces and personalities I don’t know, but I can’t lie and say we’re not connected. We’ve all shared this experience, we’ve all made it through these two years, we’ve all seen something we previously couldn’t fathom. Those Harvard grads, J Crew fashionistas, meme creators, student life-changers… they’re not a “they.”

Nope, we’re a “we.”

And for that, for this strange often overlooked connection I have to all of you, I am eternally grateful and am in awe to be a part of. I can’t wait to be 40, in some bar or social event in New York or California or Greenville, when I run into someone and start an amazing conversation where we reflect about what it was like to be part of the 2010 corps. I don’t doubt that there are people I made it these two years not knowing that serendipity will bring back to me, where we’ll re-connect and find more layers of meaning in our stories.

I’ve been debating what’s going to happen at this point, with my perspective, with this blog, with these relationships I’ve fostered via my corps commitment. But the thing that’s going to happen is nothing. This is not a line that stopped being drawn; it’s still going. We’re still going. Not an ending but a continuation.

To the 2010 Mississippi Delta corps: I love you. I’m proud of you. I can’t wait to see you again.




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